Football is back, and life is good. Let’s attempt to predict the future.
What follows are my best guesses for every starting quarterback’s defining Week 7 storyline. This will be accomplished through a superlative format, identifying who is most likely to accomplish whatever.
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Please don’t confuse this as an all-encompassing preview of the position, as the goal is merely to get a solid preview on the game’s most-important position and attempt to learn a thing or two along the way.
Related content for you: NFL Week 7 fantasy football rankings, waiver targets & drop candidates via Sosa Kremenjas
Most likely to hold the ball too long: Denver Broncos QB Teddy Bridgewater at Cleveland Browns
Sometimes pressure is more of an indictment on the offensive line, and other times, it’s more of an issue with the quarterback.
In the case of PFF’s 16th-ranked offensive line in pass-blocking grade, Bridgewater is mostly at fault. Overall, the Broncos rank 29th in pressure rate (39.9%), but this drops to just 24.2% (19th) when accounting for throws in which the ball is out in fewer than 2.5 seconds. Only six teams have a longer average time to pressure than the Broncos.
Unfortunately, Bridgewater hasn’t made a habit of getting the ball out of his hands with a sense of urgency: His average time of release rests at 2.88 seconds through six weeks — the ninth-lowest mark among 38 qualified quarterbacks. This could be especially problematic against Myles Garrett and the Browns’ league-best defense in pass-rush rate (52.5%) so don’t be surprised if Bridgewater’s early-season kryptonite really comes back to bite him on Thursday night.
Most likely to play through the pain: Cleveland Browns QB Baker Mayfield vs. Denver Broncos
Mayfield’s left arm was in a sling following the Browns’ Week 6 loss to the Cardinals, but the 2018 NFL Draft’s No. 1 overall pick said he “absolutely” expects to suit up Thursday night against the Broncos.
Credit to Mayfield for toughing out the obviously painful injury, particularly considering he’s still managed to rank among the top-half of the league’s quarterbacks in most efficiency metrics:
- PFF passing grade: 72.0 (No. 21 among 38 qualified quarterbacks)
- Big-time throw rate: 5.8% (No. 12)
- Turnover-worthy play rate: 2.9% (No. 18)
- Yards per attempt: 8.5 (No. 7)
- Adjusted completion rate: 75.3% (No. 22)
- QB rating: 97.8 (No. 17)
A date with the Broncos’ fourth-ranked scoring defense is never easy, but expect Mayfield to continue to give it his all despite playing at far less than 100%.
Most likely to finally look like his usual self: Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes at Tennessee Titans
It’s tough to be too disappointed with Mahomes despite the Chiefs’ 3-3 start to the season. The man has thrown a league-high 18 touchdowns, is averaging a robust 314.5 pass yards per game and remains the single-scariest quarterback for your favorite team to face on any given Sunday.
And yet, it’s clear through six weeks that the 2021 edition of Mahomes is the worst yet from pretty much any efficiency standpoint:
- 2021: 74.0 PFF passing grade, 3.8% big-time throw rate, 7.5 yards per attempt
- 2020: 90.4 PFF passing grade, 7.4% big-time throw rate, 8 yards per attempt
- 2019: 82.3 PFF passing grade, 5.7% big-time throw rate, 8 yards per attempt
- 2018: 92.8 PFF passing grade, 7.8% big-time throw rate, 8.5 yards per attempt
The Chiefs still boast the league’s fifth-ranked scoring offense, and Mahomes has given his receivers the fourth-best catchable ball rate on passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield. Even a somewhat more mortal version of Mahomes is still an absolute stud but just realize we haven’t seen the best the Chiefs’ $500 million man has to offer just yet in 2021.
Don’t be surprised if Mahomes puts his cape on ahead of next Sunday’s matchup against the Titans’ 28th-ranked defense in yards per attempt allowed.
Most likely to maintain top-tier efficiency: Tennessee Titans QB Ryan Tannehill vs. Kansas City Chiefs
It seems like every mediocre showing from Tannehill leads to many wondering if the clock has struck midnight on his fairytale of a career comeback. In reality, the artist known as TanneThrill entered Week 6 as PFF’s fifth-highest graded passer thanks in large part to his ability to rack up high-end throws while limiting mistakes. Overall, Tannehill sat as PFF’s 14th best passer in big-time throw rate and fourth in turnover-worthy play rate before Monday night football.
Having studs such as Derrick Henry, A.J. Brown and Julio Jones to feed the rock to can make it seem like a quarterback’s job isn’t that hard, but Tannehill has largely continued to post top-tier efficiency this year despite his top-two receivers mostly being a mix of injured and/or ineffective. Look for a true explosion out of this passing game next Sunday against the Chiefs’ 28th-ranked scoring defense.
Most likely to not make the most out of his banged up offense: Washington Football Team QB Taylor Heinicke at Green Bay Packers
Heinicke flashed some high-end ability during his first few starts with the Football Team, but it’s been more bad than good in recent weeks. Still, one can’t help but look at the injury report before judging the 28-year-old journeyman too harshly:
- OT Sam Cosmi (ankle) missed Week 6.
- G Brandon Scherff (knee) didn’t play Weeks 5-6.
- WR Terry McLaurin (hamstring) played through the pain in Week 6.
- WR Curtis Samuel (groin) has barely been able to practice, yet alone play at a high level, since joining Washington this offseason.
- WR Cam Sims (hamstring) didn’t play Weeks 5-6.
- RB Antonio Gibson (calf/shin) has been playing at less than 100% all season.
Washington has PFF’s second-lowest grade from a pure passing standpoint but also rank just 25th in team-receiving grade. Heinicke isn’t blameless in this equation but just realize the generally mediocre offensive display from the Football Team has been a team effort. A date with the Packers’ fourth-best defense in yards per attempt allowed doesn’t seem like the sort of get-right spot that Heinicke and company could use.
Most likely to fix the ole deep ball: Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers vs. Washington Football Team
Through six weeks, nobody has a worse catchable deep ball rate than the Packers (31%). Overall, Rodgers has completed just nine of his 30 passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield for 354-scoreless yards and a pair of interceptions. Want to see some bad company to be in? Rodgers joins Tua Tagovailoa and Jared Goff as the league’s only quarterbacks with an adjusted completion rate of 30% or worse on deep balls this season. Sheesh.
Of course, it’s a bit too early to sound the alarm for Rodgers and company. Rodgers has completed six of his 13 deep balls to Davante Adams, but just four of 17 opportunities to everyone else. Not having field-stretching specialist Marquez Valdes-Scantling (hamstring, IR) certainly hasn’t helped. Perhaps, the Packers will have a bit more luck in creating explosive plays this week against a Football Team defense that is tied with the Dolphins for the most completions of 15-plus yards allowed this season.
Most likely to make defenses pay for blitzing: Cincinnati Bengals QB Joe Burrow at Baltimore Ravens
Blitzing Burrow has been a terrible idea this season, as the 2020 NFL Draft’s No. 1 overall pick trails only Kyler Murray in PFF passing grade when blitzed. Overall, Burrow has completed 34 of 47 attempts with six touchdowns and just a single interception when defenses have attempted to manufacture some additional pressure, as he’s one of just seven signal-callers to average double-digit yards per attempt in these situations.
Only the Buccaneers and Dolphins have blitzed more than the Ravens this season so look for Burrow to continue to find the hot read with high-level efficiency in these situations next Sunday.
Of course, the more important thing for this Bengals passing game is simply to continue to feed electric rookie receiver Ja’Marr Chase. He’s been borderline un-coverable downfield through six weeks.
Ja'Marr Chase needs 5 deep ball targets per game pic.twitter.com/SoHTevaUk2
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) October 18, 2021
Most likely to put up some serious numbers: Baltimore Ravens QB Lamar Jackson vs. Cincinnati Bengals
To say that the Bengals have struggled to slow down Jackson in their five career matchups would be a bit of an understatement, particularly from a fantasy perspective:
- Week 11, 2018: fantasy QB13
- Week 6, 2019: QB2
- Week 10, 2019: QB1
- Week 5, 2020: QB18
- Week 17, 2020: QB8
Jackson is the fantasy QB4 in 2021 (pre-MNF) so continue to fire up the walking, talking cheat code as a top-five player at the position regardless of the matchup.
Most likely to get more help from his teammates this time around: Carolina Panthers QB Sam Darnold at New York Giants
Darnold’s Week 6 performance was largely undone by his teammates. Overall, their eight combined drops was good for the second-highest mark of 2021 and sixth-most in any game over the last decade.
Consistency is obviously crucial for any professional athlete but just realize Darnold continues to demonstrate the ability to at least briefly function at the highest of levels.
Sam Darnold with an absolute dime on 4th and ball game from his own end zone pic.twitter.com/kamOg1LtNo
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) October 18, 2021
Head coach Matt Rhule wants to redefine the Panthers offense by establishing the run. Here’s to hoping Darnold won’t completely be relegated to game-manager duties moving forward.
Most likely to bounce back because it can’t get much worse: New York Giants QB Daniel Jones vs. Carolina Panthers
Literally nobody has produced a worse single-game PFF passing grade than Jones (35.7) in Week 6. In fact, nobody the entire season has been worse for 60 minutes among all quarterbacks with at least 25 pass attempts in a single game.
I’m inclined to largely throw out this performance, as Jones was previously playing the best ball of his career and making the most out of his banged-up wide receiver room. A date against the Panthers’ pressure-heavy defense isn’t ideal, but Weeks 1-5 painted a far different picture of the Giants’ third-year signal-caller compared to what occurred last Sunday.
Down games happen to the best of NFL players so don’t let one bad performance cause you to completely count out Jones and this Giants passing game in Week 7 and beyond.
Most likely to continue to steady the ship: Atlanta Falcons QB Matt Ryan at Miami Dolphins
2021 looked like it could be the end of Ryan’s time as a high-end quarterback after a few weeks, but the 14-year veteran largely managed to right the Falcons’ sinking ship prior to Atlanta's Week 6 bye:
- Week 1: 59.7 PFF passing grade, Falcons scored 6 points
- Week 2: 66.4 PFF passing grade, 25 points
- Week 3: 51.8 PFF passing grade, 17 points
- Week 4: 89.8 PFF passing grade, 30 points
- Week 5: 88.7 PFF passing grade, 27 points
The Dolphins are tied with the Football Team as the worst defenses in total explosive passing plays (15-plus yards) allowed this season so don’t be surprised if a returning Calvin Ridley gets right in this potential blowup spot. This is especially true if ace corners Xavien Howard (shoulder) and Byron Jones (Achilles, groin) remain sidelined.
Most likely to get his first-round pick going: Miami Dolphins QB Tua Tagovailoa vs. Atlanta Falcons
The Dolphins traded their No. 3 overall pick to the 49ers before the 2021 draft but found a way to get back into the top-10 by sending the Eagles their 2021 No. 12 and No. 123 picks in addition to a 2022 first-round selection in return for Philly’s No. 6 and No. 156 picks.
The reason: Jaylen Waddle, who combined electric YAC ability with field-stretching goodness at Alabama. It’s been a slow-ish start for Waddle, but having Tua under center has coincided with the 2021 NFL Draft’s No. 6 overall pick playing more of a traditional receiving role:
- Week 1 with Tua: 10.2-yard average target depth
- Week 2 without Tua: 0.7
- Week 3 without Tua: 2.8
- Week 4 without Tua: 4.3
- Week 5 without Tua: 7.1
- Week 6 with Tua: 9.8
The Falcons rank dead last in pressure rate (24.2%) through six weeks so look for Tua and his No. 1 receiver to finally connect on a big play or two this Sunday.
Most likely to make a few bone-headed decisions: New York Jets QB Zach Wilson at New England Patriots
Davis Mills and Dak Prescott have certainly made Bill Belichick’s defense look awfully mortal over the past two weeks but just realize Wilson has a ways to go before earning the benefit of the doubt against just about anyone. He finds himself as one of just four quarterbacks with double-digit turnover-worthy plays this season despite that he's already had a bye week:
Unfortunately, Wilson has the fewest number of big-time throws (seven) from this group. It’s been far more bad than good for the 2021 NFL Draft’s No. 2 overall thus far. Look for a Week 7 home date against the Bengals to yield a slightly better environment for the rookie to flash a bit more consistently.
Most likely to keep improving the deep ball: New England Patriots QB Mac Jones vs. New York Jets
Last week I wrote the following about Jones and his issues with throwing the ball 20-plus yards downfield:
“Overall, Jones has completed just four of 19 passes thrown 20 yards downfield for 97 yards with zero touchdowns and two interceptions. The only quarterback even comparable to Jones when throwing downfield has been Jared Goff. Not exactly great company to keep, and problematic ahead of a matchup against Trevon Diggs and company.
It’d make sense if Jones improves on these sorts of passes as he 1.) gains more experience, and 2.) gets better downfield weapons in the future, but for now this inability to stretch the field will limit the overall upside of the Patriots offense.”
All Jones did against the Cowboys was complete all four of his passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield for 144 yards and a pair of scores. Some of this was certainly due to the Cowboys having their fair share of coverage miscues, but Jones also deserves credit for putting the ball where it needed to be, which expanded the Patriots' passing-game upside.
Jones still hasn’t accounted for three scores or thrown for 300 yards in a single game, so he’s not a realistic fantasy option this week in non-superflex formats. Still, he’ll need to demonstrate the ability to efficiently throw the ball to all areas of the field to make up for his relative lack of mobility, and Week 6 was a great first step in achieving this goal.
Most likely to turn in another fantasy QB1 performance: Philadelphia Eagles QB Jalen Hurts at Las Vegas Raiders
All Hurts has done in his nine career starts is put forward one fantasy-friendly performance after another:
- Week 14, 2020: 167 pass yards-1 TD-0 INT, 18 carries-106 rush yards-0 TD, fantasy QB11
- Week 15, 2020: 338-3-0 passing, 11-63-1 rushing, fantasy QB1
- Week 16, 2020: 342-1-2 passing, 9-69-0 rushing, fantasy QB12
- Week 17, 2020: 72-0-1 passing, 8-34-2 rushing, fantasy QB20 (in three quarters)
- Week 1, 2021: 264-3-0 passing, 7-62-0 rushing, fantasy QB5
- Week 2, 2021: 190-0-0 passing, 10-82-1 rushing, fantasy QB10
- Week 3, 2021: 326-2-2 passing, 9-35-0 rushing, fantasy QB10
- Week 4, 2021: 387-2-0 passing, 8-47-0 rushing, fantasy QB4
- Week 5, 2021: 198-0-1 passing, 9-30-2 rushing, fantasy QB11
- Week 6, 2021: 115-1-1 passing, 10-44-2 rushing, fantasy QB6
Just how ridiculous has Hurts’ rushing upside been? Only Derrick Henry, Jonathan Taylor, David Montgomery, Alvin Kamara and Ezekiel Elliott have more total fantasy points from rushing production than Hurts since Week 14 of last season. Hurts is even ahead of Lamar Jackson. Madness.
Continue to fire up the epitome of a great fantasy, average real-life, quarterback as a top-five player at the position regardless of the matchup.
Most likely to make at least a few great throws: Las Vegas Raiders QB Derek Carr vs. Philadelphia Eagles
Nobody has more big-time throws (23) than Carr this season. Not a fan of analytics? Watch the film.
101 seconds of Derek Carr making some good fooking throws pic.twitter.com/fFxYPsQZpb
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) October 18, 2021
Carr rebounded from back-to-back average performances in Weeks 4-5 with a truly great effort against the Broncos. It’s hard to see an Eagles defense that has allowed at least 28 points in three of their last four games truly corralling Carr and company if they’re able to operate at their highest level.
Most likely to have all kinds of trouble pushing the ball downfield: Detroit Lions QB Jared Goff at Los Angeles Rams
To say Goff has refrained from consistently forcing defenses to respect the deep ball would be an understatement:
- Average target depth: 6.9 yards (No. 34 among 38 qualified quarterbacks)
- Percentage of passing yards to come before the catch: 40.8% (No. 37)
- Percentage of passing yards to come after the catch: 59.2% (No. 2)
- Percentage of targets past the sticks: 34.9% (No. 35)
Note that Goff is just PFF’s second-worst graded passer when targeting receivers at least 20 yards downfield, as things haven’t gone all that swimmingly even when the ex-Rams signal-caller has gone outside his comfort zone. The Lions’ general disregard for their wide receiver room throughout the offseason certainly didn’t help matters but either way, this Lions passing game doesn’t seem to be on the verge of becoming anything more than a dump-down show to D’Andre Swift, Jamaal Williams and T.J. Hockenson.
Most likely to have a satisfying revenge game: Los Angeles Rams QB Matthew Stafford vs. Detroit Lions
Nobody opened up as a bigger Week 7 favorite than the Rams (-12) over the Lions. This line has since ballooned up to -15.5 — nobody is giving Detroit a shot to pull off the upset in Los Angeles this Sunday.
And maybe they shouldn’t. The Rams rank third in EPA per play (+0.123) on offense while the Lions rank 29th (-0.135). The disparity doesn’t change much on the defensive side of the ball, where the Rams come in at 14th (-0.037) while Detroit again ranks 29th (+0.091).
The only potential bigger mismatch on paper is Texans-Cardinals so expect to see plenty of sideline shots of Stafford with a big smile on his face come Sunday.
Most likely to crumble at the first sign of pressure: Chicago Bears QB Justin Fields at Tampa Bay Buccaneers
To say things have gone south for Fields when pressured would be a fairly massive understatement:
- PFF passing grade: 26.1 (No. 39 among 39 qualified quarterbacks)
- Big-time throw rate: 3.5% (No. 29)
- Turnover-worthy play rate: 7.5% (No. 34)
- Yards per attempt: 3.3 (No. 36)
- Adjusted completion rate: 44% (No. 39)
- QB rating: 27.2 (No. 37)
Of course, much of the blame should fall on Fields: His 2.96-second average time to release ranks 31st among 38 qualified quarterbacks. Don’t expect a date against the Buccaneers’ 12th-ranked defense in pressure rate to bring out the best from the rookie.
Most likely to be memed to death: Tampa Bay Buccaneers QB Tom Brady vs. Chicago Bears
The Buccaneers lost to the Bears last year partially because TB12 thought he had an extra down. Brady holding up four fingers has since become quite the meme, and my favorite usage is to indicate a confusion on the time during daylight savings. It’s fun to kick the GOAT down a notch from time to time so get used to seeing this meme all over the Twitterverse this week.
Most likely to struggle mightily against the blitz: Houston Texans QB Davis Mills at Arizona Cardinals
Mills has largely resembled at least a replacement-level passer this season, but true issues have come to the surface when opponents have decided to blitz the rookie:
- PFF passing grade: 39.4 (No. 37 among 37 qualified quarterbacks)
- Big-time throw rate: 0% (tied for No. 28)
- Turnover-worthy play rate: 7.9% (No. 37)
- Yards per attempt: 4.9 (No. 34)
- Adjusted completion rate: 70.4% (No. 23)
- QB rating: 46.6 (No. 36)
Only five teams have blitzed more often than the Cardinals this season so don’t be surprised if Mills is overwhelmed against the NFL’s last remaining undefeated squad.
Most likely to throw one beautiful deep ball after another: Arizona Cardinals QB Kyler Murray vs. Houston Texans
Few things have been prettier to watch this season than Murray uncorking a deep ball down the field. Time and time again the ball seems to find it’s intended target, as no offense has a higher catchable deep ball rate than the Cardinals (70%) through six weeks. Hell, the Colts (61%) and Seahawks (60%) are the only other offenses above 60%.
The Texans are a bottom-two defense in both explosive pass-play rate and yards per attempt allowed on passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield. Murray shouldn't need many dropbacks before adding to this season’s growing highlight reel.
Most likely to fall off because you can’t be any better: Indianapolis Colts QB Carson Wentz at San Francisco 49ers
Wentz turned in PFF’s single-highest graded game of season as a passer in Week 6, showing off some borderline erotic deep-ball ability.
Carson Wentz hit two b-e-a-utiful deep balls in Week 6 pic.twitter.com/D5Ad4eEOrd
— Ian Hartitz (@Ihartitz) October 18, 2021
Only the Cardinals have posted a higher catchable ball rate on passes thrown at least 20 yards downfield this season. Wentz has managed to combine this deep-ball goodness with the ability to limit turnovers, as his only interception of the season came back in Week 2 on a rather fluky mis-timed shovel pass.
Wentz only dropped back 23 times in Week 6, so we don’t need to crown him just yet. Still, the 2021 version of the ex-Eagles quarterback looks far closer to the man we saw in 2017-2019 compared to the atrocity that was under center in 2020. For this the Colts should be thankful and optimistic even if a matchup against Nick Bosa and company could lead to more pressure than usual.
Most likely to struggle if hurried: San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo vs. Indianapolis Colts
It seems more likely than not that Jimmy G (calf) is back under center this week, as he was practicing on Monday while Trey Lance (knee) was absent.
Here’s to hoping Garoppolo isn’t too limited in his return, as he’s struggled mightily when not given the benefit of a clean pocket this season. Overall, only Justin Fields has graded worse than Jimmy G as a pure passer when under pressure. Garoppolo only improves to 23rd when kept upright. It’ll simply remain tough for this offense to achieve any sort of real ceiling as long as the play is essentially dead when the pass rush get anywhere close to Garoppolo.
The Colts rank just 26th in pressure rate (38.8%) so perhaps Garoppolo and the 49ers will be able to stay on script and not be overwhelmed at the line of scrimmage. They better hope so because few quarterbacks have been more helpless in the face of a pass rush than Garoppolo through six weeks.
Most likely to either be awesome or horrific: New Orleans Saints QB Jameis Winston at Seattle Seahawks
The Jameis experience has been in full swing through six weeks. In Week 1, his five-score masterpiece produced 2021’s 21st-best single-game PFF passing grade. Unfortunately, Weeks 2 and 3 produced 2021’s 191st- and 172nd-highest graded passing game (min. 10 dropbacks). Winston’s Week 4 performance was good for the 16th-best single-game performance of the season, but Week 5 saw Winston slip back down to a 132nd-place finish
It’d make sense if Winston is far more good than bad against a Seahawks secondary that hasn’t exactly slowed down anybody this season. Although at this point, it’s anyone’s guess as to which version of the ex-Buccaneers quarterback will show up next Monday night.
Most likely to not receive much help from the coaching staff: Seattle Seahawks QB Geno Smith vs. New Orleans Saints
Russell Wilson (finger, IR) has largely made diamonds out of trash during his time in Seattle, particularly considering the coaching staff’s consistent reluctance to make anything easy in this passing game. The Seahawks once again find themselves near the bottom of the league in several metrics that usually help pinpoint which passing game are operating in a smart manner:
- Pressure rate: 36.6% (No. 23)
- Play-action rate: 26.3% (No. 17)
- Shift/motion rate: 39.1% (No. 29)
The latter metric, in particular, is frustrating considering the frequency with which offensive coordinator Shane Waldron made a point of emphasizing this very tool throughout the offseason.